Thursday, 27 November 2014

Monday, 24 November 2014

September - November 2014 Review

Usually I have no problem writing these monthly reviews, but clearly something went on in September and October that I didn't want to look at, or at least took away the motivation. Sometimes I just have a duff few weeks.

I started September with some food poisoning over the first weekend. That always sets me up for a good week. I got another bout at the end of October, and had a couple of days off in November with the autumn cold that has lingered since. One Wednesday morning I coughed and put my lower back into spasm, and wound up with a £70 visit to the osteo. My left hamstring decided to tighten up, to the point where sitting was actually slightly painful, and that lead to a £55 visit to Petra the sports massuese. After the last episode of food poisoning, I'm no longer drinking coffee, or eating cheese or eggs. Breakfast is suddenly a lot simpler.

My trusty six-year old 15" MacBook Pro developed Flickering Graphic Card Syndrome in September. The guys down in the basement at Mac1 Spitalfields gave me a quote of around £350 + VAT to fix it. So I didn't do that. I have an Air, and that's enough for my needs. My Marantz CD 6003 decided it would throw a fault so obscure - “Sub Q error” - that nobody had heard of it. Since these faults cost almost as much to repair as an upgrade, I went for the upgrade, the Marantz CD6005, and very pleased I am as well. The £300 or so did get me the amazing CD6005. I collected a new pair of Silhouettes with varifocal lenses that cost £800. That's an indulgence, but a) the glasses look sharp, and b) the lenses are fantastic, especially when I keep them clean. I got round to finding a gardener to fix the back fence, re-cover the shed and remove some old grass that had become infested with moss and lay in some new stuff and fill in the vegetable patch I never really grew any vegetables in. VAT, Labour and materials came to about £600. And this time of year brings all the insurances, as well as the annual review of where to put my meagre money for the least awful return on it.

I spent about two weeks in September wading my way through Lee Smolin's book Time Reborn. Things like that make reading feel like a drudgery. Neville Shute's Round The Bend make it a pleasure again. I also read Horror in Architecture by Comaroff and Ong, Cortezar's Hopscotch, Hemingway’s Men Without Women, the Foundation Beyeker’s book on Odilion Redon, The Sochi Project: An Atlas of War and Tourism in the Caucuses, Daniel Lieberman's The Story of The Human Body, A Scream in Soho, Gil Scott Heron's memoir The Last Tour and his novel The Nigger Factory, the Edie Sedgwick biography Edie: An American Biography, Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity, plus The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Book, Reproducible Research with R and R Studio, and A Man's Guide to Healthy Aging.

Movies were: A Most Wanted Man, Maps to the Stars, Human Capital, Life of Crime, The Equalizer, Gone Girl, The Judge, Mr Turner, Interstellar, The Imitation Game, Nightcrawler, The Drop and Citizen Four (which brings me up to date). My new Go-To Cinema is the Everyman Baker Street: not the cheapest in town, but pretty darn comfortable. I probably watched the first two series of Game of Thrones as well in this time. I also saw Sequence 8, Triz and Parabelo, the Thomas Ades See the Music, Hear the Dance, and Plateau Effect at Sadlers' Wells, with light suppers at Moro beforehand.

Sis and I dined at Ham Yard and Rules.

What I remember from this period is that I was still scuttling home after doing whatever it was I had gone out to do. I used to go out, for walks, to see films, go to meetings, or just for a coffee and a slice of cake and a browse round a bookshop, out of sheer restlessness. I am now, of course, no longer restless, and I miss it a little bit. I could blame the years, or I could just admit I'm getting lazy. And let's face it, if I hadn't had two bouts of food poisoning, it would have been a pretty darn good autumn.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Mr Turner vs Topsy-Turvey: Basquiat Wins

Ken Loach’s Topsy-Turvey is one of my favourite films, and one of the best films made about the creative process: in that film the creation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado. I came away feeling as if I understood more about the theatrical world of the time, the men who created those quirky operas, and with more respect than I previously had for their work.

So I was looking forward to Ken Loach’s Mr Turner. And sure, it’s lovely to look at. The performances from his troupe are surpassing excellent. And Timothy Spall gives the best performance of a man-as-a-pig as you could want, if you wanted such a thing. But by heaven’s it’s lazy.

A ton of research went into it, and it’s all up there on the screen, but little of it is in the story and even less in the character of Turner. In Topsy-Turvey we meet Gilbert and Sullivan as established figures: Sullivan already has his knighthood. Similarly, we meet Turner when he’s already a success. Except for the life of me, I can’t see why. He’s an oaf. A big, fat, ugly oaf with an unconvincing line in insincere flattery. In 1838, when Turner was in his mid-50’s, and a year covered by this film, the King of France, Louis-Philippe presented a gold snuff box to him. Watch the movie, and then try imaging that porker being admitted to the Court of Louis-Phillipe.

A film about a successful artist has to explain to the viewer why the artist was successful, and what form that success took. Loach does this very well in Topsy-Turvey, with some to-the-point scenes with their impresario, and even touching on their investment in the Savoy Hotel. It’s clear that Sullivan was talented, charming and raffish, and so dealt with the press and society, while Gilbert was a dour, detail-freak who dealt with the production. And why do we know they are good? Because Loach shows us...

Loach dodges this completely with Turner. Turner's business partner was his father, and he’s a bent-backed inarticulate, obsequious creep. Customers are shuffled into a dark room, made to wait, then lead into a studio filled with Turner’s paintings arranged to no special effect and lit by natural light through a layer of muslin. I’m pretty sure that’s not how Jay Jopling shifts his Gilbert and George paintings, and I’ll bet that Whistler was a pretty smooth operator. The buyers we see are gullible and not very bright, or aged landed aristocrats of such a seniority that everyone has to stand when they enter the room. And John Ruskin. The Ruskin in the film is such a lightweight little git that I kept thinking there must have been another John Ruskin who was the most influential art critic of the time. If i didn’t know any better, I’d think that Loach was trying to tell us that people who bought Turners then were as artistically insensible as people who buy Hirsts now. But Loach can’t be saying that, because Great Painter.

Great Painter is why it’s odd that not once do we get to see one of Turner’s pictures up close and sensual. You’d think that, on his name alone, Ken Loach could swing some decent rostrum camerawork on the Tate’s collection, let alone on the chance of a movie tie-in. But seemingly no. In Topsy-Turvey we got performances of the songs in the Mikado, but the most we get in Mr Turner is Turner dashing back from some expedition and knocking off the next Famous Painting while being a boor to an increasingly weird housemaid. Loach should have watched Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation to remind himself of how to show art to inspire awe and respect.

And then we see Turner having himself lashed to a mast so he can sail through a storm and catch pneumonia? Where did that come from? He just did it on a whim? Or was I supposed to know that story as well? Episode after episode without the joining thread of character.

Watch it by all means. But if you want to see a commercial movie that’s really about painting and the art scene of its time, and yet still about a person, watch Julien Schnabel’s Basquiat. That’s how it’s done.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Helena Christiansen in Men's Health, December 2014

Helena Christiansen? A role model for men? Really?

I’m all for articles that feature photographs of the 5’ 10” Danish-Peruvian size 6 (!) supermodel that is Helena Christiansen, though I can imagine many men thinking “45? That’s a bit on the old side.”

What got into Men’s Health editor Mike Shallcross with the December 2014 issue, no-one will ever know. But with the silly suggestion that Helena Christiansen could be a role model, and that I need the 60 year old overweight tubby that is Angela Merkel in my life (I really don’t, outside work, no-one over size 14 or over about 40 is allowed into my life), Michelle Shallcross created The Mangina Issue. I get the damn thing delivered free because no other special offer was remotely acceptable, so I’m not giving them my money.

Anyway, let’s get on with the serious business, which is a bunch of scans of Gergory Derkenne's shots of Helena Christiansen in boxing gear.

(Click for the enlargements. My apologies to Mr Derkenne if copyright issues, but not to Miss Shallcross or his employers.)

I was going to explain to Mrs Shallcross just why she’s created The Mangina Issue, but decided against it. Either he knows what he has done wrong, and is making daily, nay, hourly Acts of Contrition, or she doesn’t, when debating her feminised ass would be a waste of time.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Saved By Dysfunction

So why do I think that you’re not supposed to marry them?

Some men are born bachelors, some achieve it, and 40% have it thrust back upon them by the divorce courts within 20 years. I was born that way. It really is that simple.

Other people like to shame us bachelors-by-birth-or-choice with an endless stream of guilt-trips: I’m scared to commit; I can’t be open and vulnerable; I’m selfish / self-centered / narcissistic / adolescent / insecure; I can’t handle a real woman; I’ve been hurt and won’t get over it / move on; I think there’s going to be better offer tomorrow; I can’t trust; I’m scared of rejection; I’m frightened of taking a risk; and lack the faith that I / we could Make It Work and wouldn’t Just Be Another Divorce Statistic. In the Bad Old Days, I even heard veiled suggestions that I was gay - but that kinda rolled off my back like a duck.

While I share the views of many writers in the Manosphere about the issues involved in dealing with women, those are more like reasons other guys should be cautious. For me, being single is prior to all that stuff. It feels genetic: I’ve always been a Bachelor Boy. It’s got nothing to do with trust, or experience, or not meeting the right woman, or any other cliche. It’s as fundamental as the way I grok philosophy and logic: it’s not something I worked at, like my deadlift, it’s something I discovered I could just do. I can do single.

Some men can do single but still spend a while married. Then they get the divorce papers, find themselves strangely neutral about it, return to their natural bachelor state and live happily ever after. Why wasn’t I one of those men?

I did dating (“relationships” would be far too strong a word) because that’s what I was supposed to do - like going to work and paying taxes - not because I got some kind of good feeling. I was going through motions I didn’t really understand. Even sex, which I knew I was supposed to be doing, and learned how to do better. (Don’t do that: it turns it into work.) Look, I’m having sex, this must be a real life. The sex was real, but the life wasn’t.

I was swamped by the pain and emptiness of the whole ACoA / Alcoholic thing, which filters and distorts every other emotion and motive. “Nothing makes it all better again”. (I’m convinced that The Craft was originally a film about heroin that got re-written as a witchcraft story.) Nobody and nothing can ease that pain, and nobody and nothing could make me feel as if I belonged. That empty feeling never goes away, though it gets easier to ignore. Many things can make it worse, but nothing and nobody can make it better. Drugs, sex, cuddles, sharing, hobbies and booze are anaesthetics, not cures. Imagine living Meteora every day of your life.

This sabotaged every relationship I had with anybody and anything. I was really using them to make me feel better, not for any mutual-benefit stuff, which is what relationships are supposed to be about. Nobody could give me what I needed, which was blessed relief from that pain and a sense of belonging somewhere with someone, and which is an impossible need for anyone to meet. My socialising was driven by the need to keep up appearances: look, I’m having supper with someone, this must be a real life. I got drunk while doing it, and that was a temporary distraction. Women didn't make it better, but added to the list of things I had to deal with. They made sex possible, and sometimes sex was a time-out. Not always.

I realise now that I was saved from a horrible fate by all that dysfunction. Because it was impossible for anyone to give me what I needed emotionally, and because I made the mistake of getting good-enough at sex, I was never going to feel as if any of them was a Special Someone who made my Life Feel Complete and with whom sex was something I really, really wanted to go back for more of. I wanted there to be someone like that, so I could stop hurting, but there can’t be, and dysfunctions aren’t easily fooled, so I as always going to be… underwhelmed. If they did stick around for any time, they quickly discovered I wasn’t who they had fantasised me to be, and though the phrase didn’t exist then, usually departed with “you’re so not who I thought you were”. The closest I may have come to how regular guys feel was the LTR in my late 40’s, the one both of us stayed in for way too long, and the closest I ever came to Beta thinking and behaviour, was after that pain from the dysfunction receded, partly from sobriety and the 12-Step program. Fortunately, my Inner Bachelor kicked in and got us both out of relationship that was doing neither of us any good.

But none of that was why I didn’t get married. There are plenty of messed-up ACoA’s, co-dependents and generalised screw-ups, who are in messed-up marriages. (It’s a trap needy people can fall into: attach themselves to the first person who shows any signs of loving and caring for them.) I just knew it was something one should not do, the same way a sensible person eats their first Big Mac and knows not to have another. The same way anyone knows not to jump from tenth-story windows, or that snarling dogs should be left alone. These are things your body knows, not your brain.

If you don’t understand, you’re not a born bachelor.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Tattoos and Notch Count: Why You Shouldn't Care

Matt Forney recently wrote an article that has so far gained an astonishing 33,000 comments on RoK, explaining why girls with tattos and piercings are broken and make bad partners. It was based on his personal experience, though a follow-up article citied some academic studies that suggested his experience was not unique. As one commentator said, however, you can find an academic study that provides evidence for pretty much anything.

I'm not going to discuss whether Forney's views are right or wrong. There are pleasant young ladies in my office who have small and discreet tattoos, and in the limited world I inhabit, there are no girls with large and vivid tattos - well, until I get to the gym.

(Abby Lee Kershaw modelling a talking-point tattoo. If you live in her universe.)

I’ve never understood the heat that tattoos on, and sexual experience possessed by, women in their 20’s raises on many of the Manosphere sites. Depending on their visibility and aggression, tattoos are either a deliberate talking point (the barely-visible kind, it proves you were looking closely) or (the vivid on-display kind) a sign that you should probably leave her alone because if you were her type, she would have acknowledged you already. It all sounds like those young Indian men in the UK who want a “nice girl” from the village, not a thoroughly Westernised third-generation girl from their mixed comprehensive down the road.

I keep thinking “What are you guys worrying about? You’re not going to marry them, for Christ’s sake”. And that’s the point: those young anti-tattoo men do want to marry someone. Their complaint is that everywhere they look, they see tattoos and girls with more than a couple of notches on their belt. And in many cases, sure, if there was divorce insurance, those women would be un-insurable. Those young men should be glad those girls are disqualifying themselves as wives. And with such clear signals.

Because as far as I’m concerned, you’re not supposed to marry them. Any of them: tattoos or plain canvas, virgin or experienced, career girl or possible SAHM, sweet Polish girl or tough Yorkshire chick. You’re supposed to have sex with them, go to the movies and the ballet with them, talk about nothing over Sunday breakfast with them, go on holiday with them, and generally let them let you live a more varied life than the narrow sleep-commute-work-gym-commute-sleep cycle you would otherwise live. It’s reciprocal: without you, she would be doing the same. No-one’s using anyone. While they are with you, you should feel that they are fascinating, attractive, someone special and a general bonus to your life (that’s what men are supposed to feel about women, and if we didn’t, the whole thing really would be a business deal). After a while, she will realise you’re not a long-term prospect, or you will get tired of her faults just like the slogan says. Then it’s over.

(Original sentiment by Charles Bukowski)

I did this for a long, long time. It played out against the background of my drinking and generalised frakked-up-ness, so it wasn’t as much fun as it could have been, but I would have still “played the field”, as the phrase was, if I had been a genuinely self-confident man. Some girls didn’t stay as long as I would have liked, and I stayed with some longer than I should have. Some left me, and some I had to leave. All of them went on to other relationships and I never heard from them again.

That’s how it is supposed to be. Until, like me, your declining hormones, retreated neuroses, and sense of personal ease make it easy to retire from the fray, and live quietly as a self-sufficient bachelor. You’re not supposed to marry them. Marrying or even relationship-ing them is for the guys who can’t read the signs.
 (Reading the signs: probably not interested in a guy who blogs; also Photoshop-ed to within a millimetre of her torso; and apparently, she’s engaged.) 

Because there is no sign that says “good wife material”. Never has been, never will be. Time takes its toll on everyone and today’s good wife might be tomorrow’s shrew, just as today’s fit-and-attentive husband is tomorrow’s overweight workaholic. Equally, there’s no sign that says “will make a bad wife for you”. The most we have are probabilities. Read the signs, apply the probabilities and you will never get married, but you can still have some good relationships.

Monday, 3 November 2014

The Fox Now Arriving on Platform 18

So I take my seat on the Sunday 13:09 Waterloo-Reading via Richmond (because no District Line), look out of the window and grab my still-not-familiar-with-it Lumix TZ-40. Because this...

It disappeared into the space under the platform having had a quick look first (second to last shot of fox emerging before going back in). Utterly unconcerned, much like the foxes that used to sunbathe in my garden under the tall grasses.